Judge finds “reasonable belief” Denver school board meeting violated law

A judge will review a recording of the executive session Denver’s school board held the day after the shooting inside East High School, saying there is “reasonable belief” that members violated state statute by discussing or adopting policy behind closed doors.

The Denver Post and five other Colorado news organizations are suing Denver Public Schools, alleging the Board of Education violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law when it met in an executive session — which is closed to the public — a day after the March shooting at East.

The news organizations are seeking the public release of the recording of that meeting.

Denver District Court Judge Andrew Luxen wrote in an order Tuesday that “(p)laintiffs have shown sufficient grounds exist to support a reasonable belief” that the board adopted a policy or position or engaged in a discussion behind closed doors that is not permitted by state law.

He ordered DPS to submit a copy of the entire recording and minutes of the executive session by 5 p.m. Thursday.

The judge will review the footage privately to determine whether the district violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law, but has not yet decided whether to release the recording to the public.

The school board met in the closed session on March 23, the day after a student shot and injured two administrators inside East. They emerged five hours later with a prepared memo – which members voted unanimously to support without any debate – that temporarily suspended a 2020 board policy banning armed police in schools.

(The board fully reversed that 2020 policy last week, allowing school resource officers to return more permanently.)

The lawsuit by the media coalition alleges the board violated state law by making policy decisions during the closed session. The Colorado Open Meetings Law states that “the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges the school board violated state statute by not properly declaring an executive session because the board wasn’t specific enough about what members planned to discuss. Luxen, in his order, said that for now, the court “cannot tell if the notice met the requirements” as required by law.

Bill Good, a spokesman for the board, declined to comment for this story.

An attorney for DPS argued during a hearing last week that the meeting’s notice “made clear” that the closed session would involve discussions about the shooting and security. He also said it’s possible for members to adopt a policy without a discussion.

The attorney, Jonathan Fero, also said that if Luxen decided to review the meeting footage then the district planned to argue that it will “do harm to the public interest” if the recording is publicly released.

The news organizations that filed the lawsuit include The Post, Chalkbeat Colorado, Colorado Newsline, KDVR Fox 31, KUSA 9News and the Denver Gazette/Colorado Politics.

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